My Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God, Our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Oftentimes, when I think about prayer, I think of the gospel from Ash Wednesday. “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” As an introvert, this appeals to me. In fact, I have even coverted what should be a sun room into a private prayer space in the rectory in Garner. And, even though I think we should all have our favorite place to visit daily for prayer, whether they be an emptry room at home, a favorite outdoor shair, or a daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament, I don’t think that Jesus was saying that this is the ONLY way that Jesus wanted us to pray. The context of this message, which comes from the same gospel we read tonight, Matthew, is that we shouldn’t pray just so that others will see us and admire us for how holy we are. Prayer is a conversation with God, not a way of making ourselves look good to others.
A few years ago, I was camping with my family at Adventureland Campground just outside of Des Moines. At the time, I had a fold-down camper and my parents still had their large, hard-side camper. I went to bed around 10:30 since we were going to be going to Adventureland park the next day. At midnight, a flash of lightning illumined my camper immediately followed by a loud cannon shot of thunder. For a half hour, this lightning storm in the sky made it impossible to sleep but eventually it was silent again so I rolled over and went back to sleep. About an hour later, a heavy rain shower with some light hail moved through that sounded gunfire. But, eventually that stopped and I rolled over and went back to sleep. At three fifteen, I woke up annoyed because someone’s alarm was going off. But, of course, it wasn’t someone’s alarm. It was the tornado sirens. I wanted to roll over and go back to sleep. Thankfully, my dad came and knocked on my door before he ran off to the shelter house. I put on a shirt and some shoes before I opened my camper door to follow dad to the shelter house. I remember being very disoriented and feeling the rain and wind hit my face. I rand toward what I thought was the shelter house only to discover that it was really a locked front office. I had no idea what to do. If I ran to a different building, there was no guarantee that it would be unlocked and the only building I knew would be open, the bathroom, was the opposide direction from the way I had ran. I was afraid that if I ran for it, it would hail or the tornado would come and pick me up like in the Wizard of Oz. Only I had no delusions of ending up in Oz! So, I did the only thinkg I thought I could do. I prayed. I wasn’t locked away in my chapel, though I would have rather been there. I was under a bench in the middle of a fierce storm asking God, through the intercession of the saints, to end this so that I could get back to my camper, change my clothes, get into bed, roll over, and go back to sleep.
Let’s face it, if religion is confined to the purely private recesses of our houses, we are the ones that are going to suffer. We need God just as much in our daily lives as we do in the times set aside for prayer. That old truism that there are no atheists in foxholes reminds us of a truism that our evangelical brothers and sisters often understand better than we do: It’s oftentimes harder to believe in God when life is good than when life is challenging. We may thing that the goal of the ideal spiritual life should be to bring us peace but that’s not authentic Christiand spirituality. St. Paul reminded us of this in the second reading. He said, “We know that all things work for God for those who love God.” Now, this isn’t Paul’s way of saying that it will get better or all good things come to those who wait. Paul is expressing that, in the midst of suffering and persecution, God still brings good things to us as long as we love him. And that’s the journey each of us is called to.
The life of the Christian is not meant to be easy. In the gospel, Jesus uses two images of searching for treasure and a willingness to give up everything to have that treasure in order to convey this message to us. That’s why we need to stay connected to God both in the good times and the bad so that we can draw strength from him when we need it and be attentive to our brothers and sisters who are suffering when we don’t. Prayer needs to be the bedrock of our lives for us to be part of the Kingdom of heaven.